There is an interesting article in The Wall Street Journal today about the state of American shoe manufacturing. The article profiles a small Pompano Beach custom shoe company Otabo and its owner Howard Shaffer, as it closes its lone U.S. factory. The closure is due in part to the lack of domestic resources for American shoe manufactures as nearly all of the U.S. shoe production has moved offshore. The article interestingly pointed out that, “almost 99% of the 2.4 billion shoes purchased in the U.S. every year are imported, 86% of them from China.”
The story also makes reference to an ACL favorite Red Wing. “David Murphy, chief executive of closely held Red Wing Shoe Co. in Red Wing, Minn., an iconic American boot maker that has kept a large manufacturing operation in the U.S., says even a larger-scale company like his, with annual sales of more than $400 million, has to worry about the shoe industry’s withering infrastructure.”
A major problem that led to Ocabo’s demise was the difficulty the small shoemaker faced sourcing components and materials. “One thing that made the constant battles with suppliers irksome for Mr. Shaffer was knowing how much easier it was for shoemakers in Asia. “There are places in China where you have city blocks made up of nothing but makers of shoe materials,” he says ruefully. “You can buy 10,000 laces or 10 laces.”
“The problem of obtaining components is especially acute when it comes to materials uniquely designed for shoes, as opposed to generic items such as cardboard boxes that are used by a wide array of manufacturers. This is one reason why Red Wing prepares its own shoe leather, says Mr. Murphy.”
All the more reason to appreciate the few shoe manufactures that are still operating in the U.S.